connect to 3rd party VPN server but don't use it as the default route?

Here's a complete solution using control groups (cgroups), which allows per-process resource control. A network control group allows isolating the VPN route, easily allows any process and its children to be selectively run within it, allows non-root users to be granted access to running processes within the cgroup, and using a second instance of dnsmasq can isolate DNS queries as well. This assumes you have openvpn, dnsmasq, cgroup, and version 1.6+ of iptables with cgroup support installed. This was all done on Debian Jessie

The first step is to create the cgroup and setup the iptables accordingly. This should be done on every reboot, so I place the following in /etc/rc.local

# enable ip forwarding
echo 1 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/ip_forward

# create cgroup for 3rd party VPN (can change 'vpn' to your name of choice)
mkdir -p /sys/fs/cgroup/net_cls/vpn

# give it an arbitrary id 
echo 11 > /sys/fs/cgroup/net_cls/vpn/net_cls.classid

# grant a non-root user access (change user:group accordingly)
cgcreate -t user:group -a user:group -g net_cls:vpn

# mangle packets in cgroup with a mark
iptables -t mangle -A OUTPUT -m cgroup --cgroup 11 -j MARK --set-mark 11

# NAT packets in cgroup through VPN tun interface
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -m cgroup --cgroup 11 -o tun0 -j MASQUERADE

# redirect DNS queries to port of second instance, more on this later
iptables -t nat -A OUTPUT -m cgroup --cgroup 11 -p tcp --dport 53 -j REDIRECT --to-ports 5354
iptables -t nat -A OUTPUT -m cgroup --cgroup 11 -p udp --dport 53 -j REDIRECT --to-ports 5354

# create separate routing table
ip rule add fwmark 11 table vpn

# add fallback route that blocks traffic, should the VPN go down
ip route add blackhole default metric 2 table vpn

# disable reverse path filtering for all interfaces
for i in /proc/sys/net/ipv4/conf/*/rp_filter; do echo 0 > $i; done

The next step is to edit your 3rd party VPN's client configuration file, e.g. /etc/openvpn/client.conf. Leave the rest of your config unchanged.

# redirect-gateway def1  <--- comment or remove the redirect-gateway line if it exists

# disable automatically configuring routes and run our own script instead
route-up /etc/openvpn/

# run our own update-dnsmasq-conf script on interface up/down; comment out existing up/down lines
up /etc/openvpn/update-dnsmasq-conf
down /etc/openvpn/update-dnsmasq-conf

We now need to create the /etc/openvpn/ script

# add default route through vpn gateway to our separate routing table
/sbin/ip route add default via $route_vpn_gateway dev $dev metric 1 table vpn
exit 0

And we now need to create a modified version of update-resolv-conf, which usually comes installed in /etc/openvpn, to create the second instance of dnsmasq. I call it /etc/openvpn/update-dnsmasq-conf


[ "$script_type" ] || exit 0


case "$script_type" in
    for optionvarname in ${!foreign_option_*} ; do
        split_into_parts $option
        if [ "$part1" = "dhcp-option" ] ; then
            if [ "$part2" = "DNS" ] ; then
                NMSRVRS="${NMSRVRS:+$NMSRVRS }--server $part3"
    dnsmasq $NMSRVRS --no-hosts --no-resolv --listen-address= \
        --port=5354 --bind-interfaces --no-dhcp-interface=* \
    kill -9 $(cat /var/run/dnsmasq/

And that should be it. Now you can start your vpn connection and selectively run processes through that interface (the --sticky option ensures that child processes are run in the same cgroup).

cgexec -g net_cls:vpn --sticky chromium &

NOTE: For dnsmasq, ensure that /etc/resolv.conf points to the localhost (nameserver Your main dnsmasq instance will process queries on your normal non-VPN route and use (/var/run/dnsmasq/resolv.conf) which usually consists of your default gateway or some public DNS (e.g. Google's The second instance is only used by the isolated cgroup